CorreggioAntonio Allegri, called Correggio from his native town, some thirty miles from Parma. The wording of the contract of 30 August 1514 for the Madonna of St Francis (now in Dresden) can be interpreted to mean that he was over twenty-five years old at the time, implying that he was born in or before 1489. His artist training is uncertain. He may have been taught initially by his uncle, Lorenzo Allegri. According to a seventeenth-century source, he was pupil of the minor Modenese painter Francesco Bianchi Ferrari. He was traditionally also a pupil of Mantegna, and Ippolito Donesmondi (1612-16) ascribes to him frescoes in Mantegna’s funerary chapel in Sant’Andrea, Mantua. The Mantua connection has been confirmed by the discovery of a notarial document (published in 1996) showing that in January 1512 'Antonio de Alegris de Corigio pictori' loaned money to Mantegna's son, Francesco.
The Madonna of St Francis of 1514-15 is Correggio's earliest documented picture, but there are a substantial number of attributed earlier paintings (mainly half-length Madonnas and other small devotional panels). His main formative influences seem to have been Mantegna, whose sotto in sù perspective he developed in his great illusionistic ceiling decorations, and Leonardo, from whom he derived his soft sfumato oil painting technique. His mature works also show a familiarity with the Roman works of Michelangelo and Raphael. Sixteenth-century sources (Vasari and Ortensio Landi) claim that he never visited Rome, but some modern writers believe that he must have done so. From 1518 he worked mainly in Parma. He had moved there by the early 1520s but is often recorded back in his hometown. He died on 5 March 1534 in Correggio (of a sudden fever brought on by walking in the sun according to Vasari) and was buried in the church of San Francesco there.
Correggio’s influence was immense for centuries: his altarpieces inspired Federico Barocci and the Carracci; his night scenes (most famously La Notte in Dresden) anticipate the ‘tenebrism’ of Savoldo and Tintoretto; his dome decorations foreshadow the Roman Baroque of Lanfranco and Pietro da Cortona; and his sensuous, playful mythologies and soft technique influenced the French Rococo of Boucher and Prud’hon. His reputation peaked in the late eighteenth century and declined in the nineteenth. It has never fully recovered.
*Leda. Canvas, 152 x 191.
The highly erotic subject is from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book VI). Leda, wife of the King of Sparta, was seen bathing in the river Eurotas by Jupiter, who took the form of a Swan in order to approach her. The picture shows three episodes from the story: on the extreme right Leda tries to ward off the swan; in the centre she sits on the river bank, the swan between her knees; and on the right she is dressed by her maid as the swan flies off. Cupid sits at the foot of the tree playing a lyre. One of four canvases showing the amorous adventures of Jupiter: the others are the Danäe in the Borghese Gallery, Rome, and the Ganymede and the Io (which are both vertical in format) in Vienna. They were painted for Federico II Gonzaga. Whether the Duke commissioned the series for himself or as a present for Charles V is unclear. In any event, the Leda and Danaë were soon given to Charles V, possibly when the emperor visited Mantua in 1530 or 1532. Around the turn of the seventeenth century, they entered the collection at Prague of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. Rudolph II's celebrated collection was plundered by the Swedish army during the Sack of Prague (1648), and many of the pictures, including the Leda and Danaë, were taken by Queen Christina of Sweden to Rome after her abdication (1654) and subsequently, after her death, sold to the Duc d'Orléans (1721).
The Leda was badly damaged when Louis, the son of the Duc d'Orléans, slashed the canvas with a knife in a fit of religious frenzy, entirely destroying the head of Leda. The picture was patched up by Charles-Antoine Coypel, the Duc d'Orléans' chief painter, and sold, still in three pieces, to a dealer in 1753. After restoration by the painter Jacques-François Delyen, the picture was purchased in 1755 by Frederick the Great for 21,060 livres. The head of Leda was repainted by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon in 1808-9, when the picture was in Paris as Napoleonic booty, and reconstructed yet again by the restorer Jacob Schlesinger after the picture was transferred in 1830 to the new Berlin museum. To judge from an early seventeenth-century Spanish copy (Prado, Madrid), Leda's head was originally tilted much more to the left and her expression was more abandoned.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Head of Angel. Fresco (transferred to panel), 22 x 20.
A small fragment of the fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin painted around 1522 in the apse of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista at Parma. The fresco was partly destroyed in 1587-88 when the choir of the church was enlarged. The central part is preserved in the Galleria Nazionale at Parma, and three other surviving fragments with angel heads are in the National Gallery, London. Bought by the museum for $2,800 in 1956 from the dealer Adolph Loewi of Los Angeles. Not usually on show.
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
‘Madonna del Latte’. Wood, 69 x 57.
The struggling Child rejects the Virgin’s milk in favour of fruits (pears, quinces, cherries?) offered by an angel. The composition was extremely popular to judge from the many replicas and engravings. The Budapest version is thought to be that recorded in the Aldobrandini collection in Rome in 1603. It was acquired by Prince Miklós Esterházy at Naples in 1795. Old copies suggest that the picture originally had a landscape background.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Virgin and Child and St John. Wood, 64 x 50.
Correggio seems to have drawn on a range of sources in this early work The pose of the Madonna is similar to that in Mantegna’s altarpiece for Santa Maria in Organo (now in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan); the landscape may have been inspired by Dürer’s prints; and the pyramidal grouping of the figures recalls the Florentine Holy Families of Leonardo and Raphael. The lemons on the trellis are probably symbols of the Virgin. The picture is first recorded in 1815 in the collection of the French diplomat and man of letters Baron Nicholas Massias. It was sold in 1825 as a work of Bernardino Luini. During the twentieth century, it was in private collections in Germany and Milan. Acquired by the Chicago Institute in 1965. It is still in excellent condition, despite having been transferred to a processed wood support. The original panel was split when the picture was thrown out of a second floor window during an attempted theft in 1966.
Correggio. Museo Civico.
Pietá. Wood, 34 x 29.
The subject and small size suggest that this panel was made for private devotion. It is in Correggio's early style. A small Pietà by the painter is recorded in 1734 in the collection at Ferrara of Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo, who had bought it for 4,000 filippi from the Marchese del Carpio. The painting now in the museum at Correggio is considered the best of several versions, and has been accepted as the original by several recent critics. Previously owned by Mrs Lore Heinemann (widow of the international dealer Rudolf Heinemann), it was restored at the National Gallery of Washington in 1999-2000 and acquired by the Fondazione Il Correggio in 2002. Trimmed on at least three sides. Of the other versions, perhaps the best known is at the Courtauld Institute (bequeathed by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1947). There is an old copy, enlarged to the size of an altarpiece (235 x 135), in the church of San Sepolcro at Parma.
Head of Christ. Wood, 24 x 18.
This damaged little panel was acquired by the Fondazione Il Correggo in 1996. Ekserdjian (1997) thought it might be a copy, but it has been accepted as autograph by a number of other critics. There is a similar picture in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine. Wood, 135 x 123.
The kneeling St Catherine, with broken wheel and martyr’s palm, receives the ring on the right; the pointing Baptist with Leonardesque smile on the left; with SS. Elizabeth (or Anne) and Zacharias (or Joseph) behind. Almost certainly, the earliest of Correggio’s surviving altarpieces (about 1510?). Its original location is a mystery. In Charles I’s collection (as a Luini), and in the Commonwealth Sale as a ‘Mantua peece’ by Gaudenzio Ferrari. From 1783 to 1826 in the collection of the Austrian statesman Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz, at Vienna. Given to the Detroit Institute in 1926 by Mrs Anna Scripps Whitcomb, daughter of the newspaper magnate James E. Scripps.
*‘Madonna of Saint Francis’. Wood, 299 x 245.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned on a high pedestal within a colonnade looking out into the open countryside. The oval relief, flanked by putti beneath the throne, represents Moses with the tablets of the law. Three scenes from Genesis (Creation of Adam, Temptation and Expulsion) on the red base of the throne are now scarcely visible. To the left of the throne are St Francis (kneeling) and St Anthony of Padua (standing behind with a lily and book). To the right are St Catherine of Alexandria (holding a sword and martyr's palm and with a foot on the hub of her wheel) and John the Baptist (pointing to the Christ Child). Signed on St Catherine’s wheel. The altarpiece is Correggio’s earliest documented work. It was commissioned on 30 August 1514 for San Francesco, the most important church in Correggio, after a local citizen, Quirino Zuccardi, left a house to the Franciscan Minorites on the condition that an altarpiece be painted for their church. Correggio was paid 100 ducats, half down and the balance on the completion of the picture on 5 April 1515. The altarpiece was removed from the church by the Duke of Modena in 1636, and was sold – along with other works by Correggio in the Este collection – by Francesco III to Augustus III, Elector of Saxony, in 1745-6. The electicism of the young Correggio is well shown in the altarpiece. The pose of the Virgin derives from Mantegna's Madonna of Victory (now in the Louvre), but her smile is Leonardesque, as is the pose of the Baptist. St Francis and St Catherine, who gaze up at the Christ Child with ecstatic devotion, recall the pious saints of Perugino and Francia. St Anthony, Correggio's name saint, looks directly at the viewer and is quite possibly a self-portrait.
*‘Madonna of Saint Sebastian’. Wood, 265 x 161.
The Virgin, seated on a cloud and surrounded by cherubs and angels, appears in glory to three saints. The naked Sebastian is bound to a tree on the left. Geminianus, kneeling in the centre in a bishop's surplice and cope, points towards the Virgin. The patron saint of Modena, he is attended by a young girl holding a model of the town. The girl is often identified as an angel, but she could represent the Emperor Jovian's daughter, who was exorcised by the saint. (The object above her head appears to be a small winged demon.) Roch is on the right in his pilgrim's garb. Though enfeebled by the plague, he too gestures towards the Virgin. The picture was commissioned (possibly as a thank-offering after the plague of 1523) by the Confraternity of Saint Sebastian at Modena as the altarpiece for their new oratory (which was in use by 1525 and completed in 1528). It remained in the oratory (rebuilt in 1622) until around 1657, when it was acquired by Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and a copy by the French painter Jean Boulanger substituted. (Boulanger's copy is now in the church of San Maria della Pomposa at Modena.) Sold to Augustus III in 1745-6.
The picture is described as being in poor condition as early as 1611. In the seventeenth century, it was badly restored by the Modenese Mannerist painter Ercole Abbati and subsequently heavily repainted by the Bolognese Baroque painter Flaminio Torri. It was scratched on its journey from Modena to Dresden in 1746 and had to be repaired. In 1826-27, it was one of more than fifty paintings at Dresden controversially cleaned and restored by the Roman restorer Pietro Palmaroli.
**Nativity (‘La Notte’). Wood, 256 x 188.
The Child, lying on a bundle of wheat (a reference to the Eurcharist), is the source of light for the whole picture, illuminating the young shepherd standing on the left, bleaching the Virgin’s smiling face and dazzling the midwife standing at the end of the makeshift cot. Overhead, appearing on a bank of cloud, are five boy angels 'so beautifully painted that they seem to have come straight down from heaven rather than have been created by the hand of a painter' (Vasari). Probably Correggio’s most famous picture, known as ‘La Notte’ (‘The Night’) since at least 1619. Commissioned by Alberto Pratoneri for his chapel in San Prospero, the most important church in Reggio, on 24 October 1522 for 208 lire in old Reggio coin; but probably not delivered until 1530, when building work on the chapel, dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lord, was completed.
The picture was carried off under cover of night by Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena, in 1640 and secretly replaced by a copy, the discovery of which caused a riot in Reggio. The original frame, with Boulanger's copy, is still in situ. Sold to Augustus III in 1745-6. (So esteemed was 'La Notte' that Augustus III commissioned a second copy by Giuseppe Nogari to compensate Francesco III for the loss of the original.) The cleaning and restoration of the painting in 1827 by Pietro Palmaroli was strongly criticised. (In 1838, the British magazine The Athenaeum described the state of the picture as 'one of merciless ruin and restoration' and called Palmaroli a 'pictorial charwoman'). There is a beautiful preliminary sketch for the altarpiece, drawn in red chalk heightened in white, in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.
*‘Madonna of Saint George’. Wood, 285 x 190.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned beneath an arch, which has a cherub's head in the centre and two sculptured angels holding garlands at the sides. Four saints group around them: St George (his left foot on a huge dragon’s head), a boyish John the Baptist (gesturing towards the Christ Child), Geminianus (who presents a model of Modena Cathedral) and the Dominican Peter Martyr (a knife in his head). In the foreground, putti play with St George’s helmet and sword. Correggio’s last altarpiece, painted around 1530-32 for the Oratory of the Confraternity of San Pietro Martire at Modena. Acquired in 1649 by Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena, who commissioned Guercino's Virgin and Child with Four Saints (now in the Louvre) to replace it. Sold to Augustus III in 1745-6. The picture was damaged on its journey to Dresden and is restored in places. It is, however, probably the best preserved of Correggio's four altarpieces in the gallery.
Virgin in Glory with Angels. Wood, 20 x 16.
The angel on the left plays a lyre, that on the right a viol. Correggio’s smallest picture. First recorded, without attribution, in the 1675 inventory of Leopoldo de’ Medici’s collection. Catalogued as by Titian throughout the nineteenth century, but recognised as an early Correggio by Giovanni Morelli (1886). Usually dated between 1510 and 1515.
*Rest on the Fight into Egypt. Canvas, 129 x 106.
St Joseph, on the left, is pulling down the branch of a date palm. St Francis kneels on the right. From the family chapel of Francesco Munari in the church of San Francesco at Correggio. On 17 March 1520, just before his death, Munari made a will leaving 25 ducats for the adornment of the chapel, which was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. St Francis is presumably included in the picture either because he was the donor’s name saint or because the church is dedicated to him. The picture was secretly removed from the chapel in 1638 by Francesco I d’Este and replaced by a copy by Jean Boulanger (now in the Correggio Museum). (The angry Correggians petitioned the Governor, the Pope and the governing bodies of the Franciscans for the return of the picture, but to no avail.) It was sent to Florence in 1649 in exchange for the Sacrifice of Isaac by Andrea del Sarto (now in Dresden).
*Virgin adoring the Child. Canvas, 81 x 67.
Bright light emanates from the Child, illuminating the Virgin who kneels in adoration. The saddle in the foreground and the palm tree in the distance allude to the Flight into Egypt. This well-known picture, often reproduced for Christmas cards, probably dates from the mid-1520s. It was presented to Cosimo II de’ Medici by his brother-in-law Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, in 1617, and was placed in the Tribuna, where it remained until the end of the nineteenth century. It was seen there by Henrietta Stackpole, the American journalist in the Henry James novel Portrait of a Lady (1881), who thought it 'the most beautiful picture in the world'.
Mary Magdalene Reading (copy). Copper, 30 x 43.
The penitent saint, wrapped in blue drapery and absorded in her pious reading, lies on her stomach in front of her cave at Sainte-Baume. This little oil-on-copper painting, formerly ascribed to Bronzino and now to Alessandro or Cristofano Allori, is one of numerous old copies of a lost work by Correggio. A version formerly at Dresden – among the one hundred works acquired by Augustus III in 1745-46 from the Galleria Estense at Modena – once enjoyed enormous fame as Correggio's original. But doubts about its authenticity surfaced in the late nineteenth century. (Giovanni Morelli, in 1880, called it a mere pastiche by a late seventeenth-century Dutch painter.) Like the version at the Pitti Palace, it was painted on copper, and it was virtually unknown for Italians of Correggio's time to use copper panels as painting supports. Nonetheless, some art historians (including Kenneth Clark and Cecil Gould) continued to believe it to be by Correggio. It disappeared from Dresden in 1945 and remains untraced.
Very recently, Correggio's original painting has been identified with a panel of unknown provenance newly discovered in a private collection (see the article by David Ekserdjian in the July 2019 Burlington Magazine). Correggio's little picture might have been painted for Isabella d'Este, who had a special devotion for Mary Magdalene and visited the saint's shrine at Sainte-Baume in 1517.
London. National Gallery.
*‘The School of Love’. Canvas, 155 x 92.
Mercury, in winged cap and sandals, gives a reading lesson to Cupid (or possibly Anteros, Cupid's brother and god of requited love). Venus, Cupid’s mother, is shown, unusually, with wings. She stands in a pose recalling antique statues of the Venus Pudica and gestures towards her child. The title ‘School of Love’ is not recorded before the eighteenth century. The picture and its probable companion, the so-called 'Antiope' in the Louvre, are unlikely to refer to particular myths and may be allegories of contrasting forms of love. (Miniature watercolour copies made in England by Peter Oliver in 1633-34 were called Venerie Coeleste and Venerie Mundano, or 'Celestial Love' and 'Earthly Love'.) The two picture probably date from the middle or late1520s. They are recorded together in the Gonzaga collection in 1627, and it used to be thought that they were painted for the Mantuan court. However, the original patron is now believed to have been Count Nicola Maffei of Mantua, a member of the Gonzaga circle and noted collector of antiques and paintings. The two works entered Charles I’s collection with the Gonzaga pictures, but were separated during the Commonwealth, when one went to Spain and the other to France. The School of Love was among the property confiscated from Emmanuel Godoy ('Prince of Peace' and First Secretary of State of Spain) by Joachim Murat (then military commandant of Madrid) after Godoy was arrested in 1808. It was subsequently taken to Naples, and sold in Vienna by Murat's wife to the Marquess of Londonderry. Bought by the National Gallery, together with the Ecce Homo, in 1834 for £11,500. The picture is somewhat worn and restored, and has been cut down (most obviously at the right edge, where Mercury's knee is truncated).
Ecce Homo. Wood, 99 x 80.
The Latin title means 'Behold the Man' – the words spoken by Pontius Pilate when he presented Christ, scourged and crowned with thorns, to a hostile crowd before the Crucifixion (John 19: 5). On the left, the Virgin (who is not mentioned in the Gospel account) sinks into the arms of St John (or Mary Magdalene). She is separated from Christ by a stone ledge and appears to occupy the same space as the viewer. The turbaned Pilate stands behind. His gesture enjoins the viewer to 'behold the man'. The Roman soldier, to the right, is perhaps Longinus – the blind centurion who recognised Christ's divinity at the Crucifixion. The composition was possibly inspired by Mantegna’s picture of about 1500 in the Jacquemart-André Museum, Paris. Correggio’s picture was probably painted in the 1520s. Agostino Carracci’s engraving of 1587 states that it was in the Prati collection at Parma. It was later owned by the Colonna family in Rome and by Ferdinand IV of Naples. Like the School of Love, it was taken by Madame Murat when she fled from Naples in 1815, and sold by her in Vienna to the Marquess of Londonderry.
*‘Madonna of the Basket’. Wood, 33 x 25.
The Child wriggles in the Virgin's lap, as she tries on him the jacket she has just made. In the left foreground, the Virgin’s work-basket with scissors and a ball of wool. Joseph is the carpenter in the background. This beautiful, and exceptionally well-preserved, little work is probably the picture described by Vasari in the possession of Cavaliere Francesco Boiardo of Parma, son of the poet Andrea. Next recorded in the 1666 inventory of the Alcázar in Madrid, and acquired by the English painter and dealer George Augustus Wallis during the upheavals of the Peninsular War. Bought by the National Gallery in 1825 for £3,800.
Christ taking leave of His Mother. Canvas, 87 x 77.
This apocryphal subject was very rare in Italian painting but more common in Northern Europe. Christ, robed in brilliant white, kneels before the Virgin Mary, who collapses with grief into the arms of a female companion. The young St John the Evangelist, standing behind Christ, wrings his hands with anguish. The picture is regarded as a very or fairly early work (1512-18). It is perhaps Correggio’s earliest surviving painting on canvas, and the forms are rather blurred and the landscape hazy. First mentioned in 1786 in the possession of a certain Signor Rossi in Milan. It was in England by 1879, when it was discovered by the art historian Jean Paul Richter in the possession of Vitale de Tivoli, a professor of Italian at Oxford, who lived in the London suburb of Brixton. It passed into the famous Robert and Evelyn Benson collection of Italian old masters, and was presented to the National Gallery in 1927 by the dealer Joseph Duveen, who had purchased the Benson collection en bloc that year for £500,000.
Mary Magdalene. Canvas, 38 x 30.
The cross-legged pose of the nearly naked saint, leaning on a large book and cradling her jar of ointment, may have been taken from a Roman sarcophagus. Clumps of dandelions and pinks grow in the foreground, and ivy creeps along the rock behind the saint. The little canvas is the best of several versions: Roberto Longhi (Paragone (1958)) thought it only a copy, other critics have expressed uncertainty, but most have accepted it as Correggio’s original. (A pentimento in the left ankle has been cited as evidence against the view that it is a copy.) Probably comparatively early (around 1518-19?). It was possibly painted for Isabella d'Este, who had a special devotion for Mary Magdalene and visited the saint's shrine at Sainte-Baume in Provence in 1517. Its provenance has been traced back with certainty only to 1903, when it was sold in Paris. One of some sixty Italian and Flemish old masters bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1910 by the Australian-born collector George Salting.
Heads of Angels. Fresco fragments, 36/45/37 x 37/61/33.
Three fragments of the fresco painted in about 1522 in the apse of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma. The fresco was destroyed in 1587-88 when the choir was enlarged. Other surviving fragments are in the Parma Gallery (the central section representing the Coronation of the Virgin) and at Boston (another angel head). (An angel head at Glasgow is now thought to be a forgery.) Two of the National Gallery’s fragments were bequeathed in 1924 with the collection of the industrialist Ludwig Mond and the third was presented in 1925 by Sir Robert Witt.
London. Hampton Court.
Holy Family with St Jerome. Wood, 67 x 52.
The figure on the left has been alternatively (but less plausibly) identified as St James. Charles I’s brand is on the back of the picture, which is almost certainly the ‘Madonna, Christ and Jerome by Correggio’ valued at £50 in the Commonwealth Sale of November 1649. A relatively early work (1515-19). Correggio seems to have reused his cartoons: the Child is the same as in the Virgin and Child with the Infant St John in the Prado, while the Virgin is the same as in another Holy Family, which also belonged to Charles I and is now at Orléans.
Saint Catherine Reading. Canvas, 64 x 52.
The reading saint is identified by the broken wheel on which she leans and her martyr’s palm. The attribution was doubted by Cecil Gould (who judged the picture either a damaged studio work or a later pastiche), but has been accepted by almost all other critics. Probably one of Correggio’s last works. In the royal collection since at least the reign of James II. There are a number of old copies, some showing the saint kneeling. An approximately contemporary Saint Catherine by Bernardino Luini (versions at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, and National Gallery, London) also shows the saint reading.
London. Apsley House.
*Agony in the Garden. Wood, 37 x 40.
This famous panel probably dates from the 1520s. It is Identified with the ‘small picture, about a foot square, with several little figures, showing Christ in the Garden’ noted by Vasari in Reggio and praised enthusiastically by him as ‘the most rare and beautiful of all Correggio’s works’. Its subsequent history can be traced with reasonable certainty. According to Lomazzo (1590), it was given by Correggio to an apothecary in payment of a small debt of 4 or 5 scudi but was then sold for 400-500 scudi to Count Pirro Visconti of Milan. It was bought in the 1650s by the Marquis of Caracena, the Spanish Governor of Milan, from a descendant of Count Pirro for 750 doppie and by 1666 had entered the collection of Philip IV of Spain. It was among the pictures discovered in Joseph Bonaparte’s carriage after the Battle of Vitoria and returned by the Duke of Wellington to the Spanish king (Ferdinand VII), who gave them back to the Duke as a present.
The right side of the panel is much damaged. (It is said to have been scorched by a lamp.) The appearance of this part of the picture was transformed by cleaning in 1949-50. It was previously so dark that the sleeping apostles (Peter, James and John) were indecipherable. Tiny figures of Judas and Roman soldiers were found to be later additions and removed. An old copy in the National Gallery gives an idea of the original appearance of the landscape on the right. A red chalk study for the kneeling figure of Christ is preserved in the British Museum. (On the back of the same sheet is a study for the Cupid in the National Gallery's Education of Cupid.)
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
Head of Christ. Wood, 28 x 23.
This small panel depicts the Vera icon – the veil of St Veronica which was miraculously imprinted with Christ’s features during the Passion. A late work, probably dating after 1530. It might have been painted for a patron called Veronica – possibly Veronica Gambara, wife of Conte Gilberto of Correggio. It is possibly the ‘Correggio Veronica’ listed in the inventory drawn up in Amsterdam in 1655 of the estate of Aletheia, Countess of Arundel. It was later in France (the collection of Monsieur de Sereville), and was bought by Viscount Gage in 1812. Until 1996 it was at Firle Place in Sussex.
*‘Noli me Tangere’. Wood (transferred to canvas), 130 x 103.
The Latin title means 'Do not touch me' – the words spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene when he appeared miraculously to her after his death (John 20:17). She had initially mistaken him for the gardener, and his sun hat, hoe and spade rest at the foot of the tree on the right. He is draped in deep blue rather than the usual white (perhaps to symbolise his divinity and/or royalty) and is unmarked by the wounds of the Crucifixion. Mary Magdalene's shimmering cloth of gold gown is very like that worn by St Cecilia in Raphael's famous altarpiece at Bologna. The painting is one of the most highly finished of Correggio’s pictures, and the background trees and foreground details – plants, straw hat and garden tools – are rendered with meticulous care. It was probably commissioned in the 1520s by a Bolognese nobleman, Vincenzo Ercolani, as an altarpiece for his family's private chapel. It is recorded in the Ercolani family's house, located across the street from the church of San Giovanni in Monte, in a 1560 guidebook (Pietro Lamo's Graticola di Bologna), and it was still there a few years later, when Vasari praised it as a 'very beautiful work'. It was acquired by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini at the end of the sixteenth century and then passed into the Ludovisi collection at Rome. It went to Spain in 1643 as a gift from Prince Lodovico Ludovisi to Philip IV. It hung in the monastery of the Escorial until 1839, when it was transferred to the Prado.
*Virgin and Child with the Infant St John. Wood, 48 x 37.
The Child’s outstretched arms, as if he is about to embrace the infant St John, may be intended to evoke the Crucifixion. An early, rather Leonardesque work (middle to late 1510s). The pyramidal composition, Virgin's pose and cavern setting all recall the Virgin of the Rocks. First recorded in 1746 in the collection of Elisabetta Farnese, queen consort of Philip V of Spain, at the palace of La Granja.
Leda (copy). Canvas, 165 x 193.
A copy by Eugenio Cajés of the picture at Berlin. The copy, commissioned in Spain in 1604, is interesting as a record of the original appearance of Correggio's erotic masterpiece, which was mutilated with a knife in the early eighteenth century and subsequently restored many times. There seems to have been a degree of censorship in the reconstruction of Leda's head, which was completely destroyed in the attack. The copy shows Leda more sexually aroused, with her head twisted more to the side and her expression more abandoned.
Madrid. Real Accademia de Belles Artes de San Fernando.
Saint Jerome. Wood, 64 x 51.
This small devotional panel is an early work (1515-20), showing the influence of Leonardo. It has a Mantuan provenance, and was acquired by Charles I with the Gonzaga collection. It is clearly identifiable in the 1639 inventory of the royal collection ('St Jeronimus leaning uppon his right arme and with his left houlding a dead scull uppon his booke saide to be of Corigio'). It was bought for £40 at the Commonwealth Sale by Alonso de Cárdenas, the Spanish ambassador. By the early nineteenth century it had acquired an attribution to Sebastiano del Piombo. It was rediscovered as an early work of Correggio by Tancred Borenius, who published a note on it in the November 1928 Burlington Magazine.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Portrait of a Man. Canvas (transferred?), 55 x 40.
The upper part of the cap and costume appear to be later additions. Once in the collection of Prince Zampieri in Bologna and later that of Consul von Weber of Hamburg; acquired by Baron Thyssen by 1930. The attribution to Correggio dates back at least to the nineteenth century, and is supported by some, but not all, modern critics. There have been other attributions to Giulio Campi (Berenson), Lorenzo Lotto (Gould) and even El Greco.
Four Evangelists. Frescoes.
The frescoes are in the pendentives of the dome of Andrea Mantegna’s memorial chapel (first on the left). They are ascribed to Correggio by Ippolito Donesmondi in his Dell’Istoria ecclesiastica di Mantova of 1612-16. If by Correggio (which is not unanimously accepted), they would be perhaps his earliest surviving works, painted in about 1507 when he was still in his teens.
Mantua. Museo Diocesano.
Entombment; Holy Family. Detached frescoes, 150 in dia.
These badly damaged frescoed roundels are from the atrium of Sant’Andrea, where they were ascribed to Correggio by Donesmondi (1612-16). They were rediscovered in 1914-15, detached in 1961 and subsequently restored. The sinopia of the Entombment is also preserved in the museum. Dated very early (before 1510-11) by most modern critics. The Pierpont Library, New York, has a cartoon, vigorously drawn in heavy charcoal, for the head of the grief-stricken Magdalen in the Entombment.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
Madonna and Child with Infant St John. Wood, 45 x 36.
This well-preserved little panel has come to light only recently. Previously in a private collection in Switzerland, it was acquired by the Victoria museum at Sotheby’s, London, in July 2011 for $5.2 million. Early (probably 1511-15). The pyramidal composition is distinctly Leonardesque and closely related to Correggio's other early paintings of the Madonna and Child with St John at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan and Chicago Art Institute. The Victoria museum has had the picture cleaned, removing darkened varnish and some old repaint, and has replaced the nineteenth-century frame with a Renaissance tabernacle one.
Nativity. Wood, 79 x 100.
The Christ Child, lying on a white sheet upon a bed of straw, is adored by the Virgin and by her cousin St Elizabeth holding the infant Baptist. Two shepherds, accompanied by an angel, watch from a respectful distance behind a wicker fence. Joseph slumbers in the doorway on the right, using a saddle as a pillow, and two child angels hover overhead swinging a thurible on a chain. Early (perhaps 1512-14); the toothless St Elizabeth is especially Mantegnesque. Possibly the ‘Nativity of Christ in Correggio’s first manner’ recorded in the 1633 inventory of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi's famous collection at Rome. In the nineteenth century, it was ascribed to the school of Dosso Dossi and to Savoldo. The attribution to Correggio was made by Jean Paul Richter, a former owner, in 1883. Richter sold the picture to the Milanese textile industrialist Benigno Crespi, whose collection was auctioned in Paris in 1913.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 108 x 84.
Caspar, the oldest Magus, has removed his turban and kneels to receive the Christ Child's blessing. He is followed by Melchior, who bows as he approaches the Holy Family, and by Balthasar, an exoitically dressed young African. The two men seated on the steps with a greyhound are dressed as German or Swiss mercenary soldiers (Landsknecht). The ivy, climbing up the wall behind the Virgin, is thought to represent Eternal Life. Fairly early (1514-18). Ascribed to Scarsellino (a minor late sixteenth-century artist from Ferrara) until the 1890s, when it was recognised as a Correggio by the young Bernard Berenson. Among the pictures bequeathed to the city of Milan by Cardinal Cesare Monti in 1650. Transferred to the Brera from the archbishop’s palace in 1895.
Milan. Castello Sforzesco.
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John. Canvas (transferred), 68 x 49.
The Christ Child links arms with St John, who holds up a crucifix, symbol of Christ's future sacrifice. An early work, known as the ‘Madonna Bolognini Attendolo’ after its previous owner. The Madonna is distinctly Leonardesque, as is the misty, mountainous landscape. The colour appears to have been dulled by the transfer from panel to canvas. There is a rather similar (probably even earlier) picture in the Chicago Art Institute. Acquired (as a work of Leonardo's Lombard follower Cesare da Sesto) in 1844 by Pio Innocenzo Attendolo Bolognini, whose brother Gian Giacomo bequeathed it to the City of Milan in 1865. The attribution to Correggio was published in Julius Meyer's 1871 German monograph.
*Portrait of a Man (Giulio Zandemaria?). Canvas, 60 x 43.
The running deer in the woodland on the right may be of symbolic or heraldic significance. Another, more romantic suggestion is that the young man is reading Petrarch and the deer is a reference to Sonnet 190 ('A white doe on the green grass appeared to me') or to Sonnet 319 ('These days of mine, faster than a hind'). This is one of only three or four portraits attributed to Correggio. The attribution was made by Roberto Longhi shortly after the Second World War, and is not unanimously accepted. Cecil Gould believed that the portrait is an early work of Parmigianino. The portrait was bequeathed to the museum in 1945 by Contessa Lydia Caprara, widow of Conte Gian Giacomo Morando Bolognini.
Modena. Galleria Estense.
‘Madonna Campori’. Wood, 58 x 45.
The Virgin gazes tenderly down on the Child, who clasps her index finger with one hand and reaches up towards her face with the other. In the dim background, a window is just visible, framing some green leaves. An early work, about contemporary with La Zingarella in Naples or the Virgin and Child with the Infant St John in Madrid. From the chapel of the Castello di Soliera, near Mantua, where it was discovered in 1852 by the painter Vincenzo Rasori. Bequeathed to the Gallery in 1894 by the Marchese Giuseppe Campori. One of five paintings stolen from the Galleria Estense in 1992 by the Mala del Brenta (Venetian Mafia). Recovered in 1995 and restored.
Madonna and Child (‘La Zingarella’) . Wood, 47 x 37.
The Virgin is seated on the ground, her hair bound with a scarf. The picture was already known as La Zingarella (‘the Gipsy Girl’) as early as 1607, when it was left by Ranuccio Farnese to his sister Margherita, a nun at the convent of San Paolo at Parma. When she died, the picture returned to the Farnese collection, which was transferred to Naples in 1734. It is a relatively early work (around 1516-17). X-rays have shown that it was painted over a Christ carrying the Cross. Its condition was already described as 'deplorable' in 1610, when Federico Borromeo donated a copy by Lodovico Carracci to the Ambrosiana Library at Milan. A disastrous restoration in 1934-5 radically altered the appearance of the picture – removing plants in the foreground, a tree on the right, a putto overhead pulling down a palm branch and a white rabbit at the left edge – and left the surface much abraded. The elements now lost appear in old copies, suggesting that they were present in Correggio's composition and not additions by a later hand. The inclusion, originally, of the putto pulling down a palm branch identifies the subject as the the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.
*Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 28 x 24.
The youthful St Catherine, holding a palm frond and with the sword of her martyrdom lying on the ground beside her, kneels to take the ring from the Christ Child. This delightful little panel could date from the late 1510s or 1520s. It has been much copied and its authenticity has sometimes been doubted. (There was once an attribution to Annibale Carracci.) However, X-rays have confirmed that it is Correggio's original by revealing that it was painted over a Madonna in the artist's early style. The picture entered the Farnese collection in 1612 with property confiscated from the Countess Barbara Sanseverino after the failed 'conspiracy of the feudal lords' to assassinate Duke Ranuccio I. Transferred from Parma to Naples in 1734. The many copies include one by Angelica Kauffmann, done at Naples in 1773 and now at Burghley House (Lincolnshire).
Saint Anthony Abbot. Wood, 48 x 38.
The third/fourth-century Egyptian hermit saint was immensely popular in the Middle Ages as the patriarch of monks and healer of both men and animals. Frail and tormented, he is identified by the tiny bell hanging from the handle of his Tau-cross. Early (dated around 1517-18 by Ekserdjian). Discovered in about 1905 in the sacristy of the church of the Girolomini (San Filippo Neri) at Naples.
Saint Joseph and a Donor. Two canvases, each 170 x 65.
These two canvases, thinly painted in distemper, are in the form of doors. Inscribed with the date 6 July 1529. The traditional attribution to Correggio (recorded in early Farnese inventories) was revived by Ferdinando Bologna (1957), who tried to identify the donor, dressed as a pilgrim, as Count Guido da Correggio. The canvases could have formed the doors of a cupboard or the shutters of a small organ.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Four Saints. Canvas, 222 x 162.
From left to right: Peter (with the keys to Heaven and Hell and his foot on a rock), Martha (with dragon tied to her girdle), Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment) and Leonard (with fetters). The wooded setting is probably expained by the legend that Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha lived in a forest after making their way to France. Probably the picture mentioned in the will, dated 15 December 1517, of a certain Melchiore Fassi, who bequeathed his estate to the church of San Quirino at Correggio on condition that a chapel should be built with an altarpiece representing these four saints. The chapel was probably never built, but Fassi had another altar in the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the town, and the picture is recorded there in the seventeenth century. It was gone by 1786, and in the early twentieth century it belonged to Lord Ashburton of Northington, Hampshire. It was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1912.
Orléans. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Holy Family. Wood, 63 x 53.
Probably slightly earlier than the version at Hampton Court, which reused the cartoon for the Virgin but substituted St Jerome (or James) for the infant St John. The picture was in the collection of Charles I of England (whose arms are on the back). It was probably presented to Charles when he visited Madrid as Prince of Wales in 1623 in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a marriage with the Spanish princess Maria Anna. Recorded from 1693 in Louis XIV's collection at Versailles. It appears in nineteenth-century inventories simply as a work of the 'Lombard School', but an attribution to Correggio (published in 1921 by Roberto Longhi in L'Arte) is now generally accepted.
*Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine. Wood, 105 x 102.
On the right, a smiling Leonardesque St Sebastian holding an arrow. In the background, Catherine’s attempted martyrdom on the wheel (left) and her beheading (centre). This unusually large devotional panel (praised by Vasari as ‘a most divine work in which Our Lady holds the Child, who marries St Catherine, attended by St Sebastian’) was painted for Francesco Grillenzoni, who was a member of the confraternity of St Sebastian at Modena. Presented by Cardinal Antonio Barberini to Cardinal Mazarin. Louis XIV acquired it from Mazarin’s heirs, who had valued it at 15,000 francs.
*Venus and Cupid with a Satyr (‘Jupiter and Antiope’). Canvas, 190 x 124.
Popularly, but probably wrongly, called ‘Jupiter and Antiope’. When first recorded in an inventory of 1589 of the collection of Count Nicola Maffei’s grandson in Mantua, the subject is described as ‘Venus and Cupid who are asleep with a Satyr who uncovers [them]’. The subject was perhaps inspired by a woodcut illustration, depicting a lustful satyr unveiling a sleeping nymph, in Francesco Colonna's esoteric romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed in Venice in 1499. Titian's Venus of Pardo (also in the Louvre) visits similar territory. The composition is related to the engraving of Jove and Antiope from the Loves of the Gods series of erotic prints. It is uncertain, however, whether the engraving – executed by Jacopo Caraglio around 1527-28 after a drawing by Perino del Vaga – is a year or two earlier or later than Correggio's painting.
The School of Love (London National Gallery) is recorded hanging in the same room as the 'Antiope' (the camera da letto on the ground floor of the Maffei palazzo in Contrada Montenegro), and the two pictures are usually considered pendants, although they are now different sizes. They probably date from the middle or late 1520s. They were among the pictures sold by Vincenzo II Gonzaga to Charles I, and the 'Antiope' was valued at the very high price of £1,000 in the Commonwealth Sale of 1649. It was acquired by Everhard Jabach, the German banker and collector, who sold it to Cardinal Mazarin for 25,000 francs. It was bought by Louis XIV from the cardinal’s heirs in 1661. It was badly restored in 1793. (The painter Jacques Louis David complained: 'the glazes and halftones, in a word all that specially characterizes Correggio, have disappeared'.) A sensual red chalk study for the sleeping Venus is preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Her pose appears to derive from the Sleeping Ariadne, a renowned classical sculpture, formerly known as Cleopatra, that was acquired by Julius II and is now in the Vatican Museums.
*Allegory of Virtue. Canvas, 141 x 86.
Minevra is crowned with laurel and holds a broken spear. The woman on the left, holding a sword and sitting on a lionskin, personifies the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude). The woman on the right, measuring with dividers on a globe, may represent Science or Astronomy. There is another, unfinished, version in the Doria-Pamphilj Gallery, Rome, which shows Minevra naked.
*Allegory of Vice. Canvas, 141 x 86.
A naked bearded man (clearly sexually aroused under his drapery) is sometimes identified as Marsyas, Silenus or Vulcan. He is tormented by three naked women, their hair entwined with snakes. The vine winding around the tree may allude to man as prisoner of his desires, while the grinning boy holding the bunch of grapes in the foreground probably warns of the evils of drink. The composition was clearly influenced by the famous Hellenistic or Roman marble group of Laocoön and His Sons, excavated at Rome in 1506. An exquisite red chalk drawing in the British Museum omits the grinning boy but is otherwise very close to the finished painting. The two Allegories were painted to hang on either side of the door of Isabella d’Este’s studiolo in the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua. They were executed in tempera rather than oil to fit in with the work of Mantegna, Perugino and Costa which already decorated the walls. They are very late works (about 1532-34). The pair was acquired with the Gonzaga collection by Charles I, and valued at £1,000 in the Commonwealth Sale. Like the (so-called) Jupiter and Antiope, they were bought by Jabach, and later belonged to Mazarin and Louis XIV. They owe their current titles (which hardly do justice to the complexity of the subjects) to engravings made in 1677 by François Félibien.
Parma. Galleria Nazionale.
**Madonna of Saint Jerome ('Il Giorno'). Wood, 208 x 141.
The Virgin sits on a grassy bank. St Jerome, accompanied by his lion, stands on the left. He is attended by an angel, who displays the saint's Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) to the Christ Child. Mary Magdalene kneels on the right, bending forward to rest her head against the Child and caress his foot. She is attended by an angel holding her jar of ointment. Nicknamed by the eighteenth century ‘Il Giorno’ (‘The Day’) in contradistinction to the Nativity at Dresden (‘La Notte’). From the church of Sant'Antonio Abbate at Parma. According to a church record (now lost but published in a late eighteenth-century history), it was commissioned in 1523 by Donna Briseide Colla, widow of Ottaviano Bergonzi (a prominent citizen of Parma who had served on the town council). Correggio is said to have been paid 400 imperial lire, and given a bonus of two loads of wood, several bushels of wheat and a pig. The picture may not have been completed until 1527-8. Vasari praised it for 'its astonishing and beautiful colouring', and its fame was spread by a much-copied engraving made in 1586 by Agostino Carracci. In the eighteenth century, Algarotti called it 'perhaps the most beautiful painting that ever came from human hand'.
The altarpiece remained in situ until 1712, when the church was rebuilt and the picture was moved to the rectory. It was taken to Parma Cathedral for safekeeping in 1749, following a rumour that it was about to be sold to Augustus III of Saxony (who had already acquired La Notte and three other altarpieces by Correggio). It was bought in 1765 for 1,750 zecchini by Philip, Duke of Parma, and hung in the newly established Accademia di Belle Arti. It was plundered by the French in 1796, but restored to Parma in 1816. The only known preparatory study for the picture (a very free sketch at Christ Church, Oxford) omits the figure of Mary Magdalene, which may have been added at the request of the female patron.
*‘Madonna della Scodella’. Wood, 217 x 137.
The picture takes its name from the feeding bowl in the Virgin’s hand. The subject is the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (or perhaps rather, given the age of the Christ Child, the Rest on the Return). According to a legend in an apocryphal gospel, a palm tree bent down its branches to offer fruit to the hungry family, while the ground opened up to reveal a fresh spring. Joseph gathers dates from the palm and passes them to the Child, and the Virgin gathers water in her bowl. Painted in 1530 (according to an inscription on the frame) for the Society of St Joseph, whose chapel (first on the left) was in the church of San Sepolcro in Parma. Like the Madonna of St Jerome, it was taken to Paris in 1796, and placed in the Gallery on its return in 1816. The original classical frame, with fluted Ionic columns, was carved by Marcantonio Zucchi (who made the choir stalls with intarsia decoration for the churches of San Quintino and San Giovanni Evangelista at Parma). The Madonna della Scodella influenced many subsequent paintings of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, including Barocci's popular picture of the early 1570s (versions at the Vatican and in Piobbico, near Urbino).
*Martyrdom of St Placidus and St Flavia. Canvas, 159 x 181.
The gory subject is unusual. St Placidus, a sixth-century follower of St Benedict, and his sister Flavia were allegedly martyred by Saracen pirates at Messina, along with their two younger brothers Eutichius and Victorinus (whose bodies and severed heads are visible at the right edge of the picture). Commissioned, together with the Lamentation (also in the Gallery), by Placido del Bono, confessor of Pope Paul III, for his family chapel in San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma.
*Lamentation. Canvas, 157 x 182.
The mourners are the Virgin Mary (who supports the head of the dead Christ in her lap), John the Evangelist (who comforts her), Mary Magdalene (who grieves at Christ's feet) and another Mary (at the left edge). Nicodemus, holding pincers and nails, descends the ladder in the background. This canvas hung opposite the Martyrdom of St Placidus and St Flavia, on the left wall of the Del Bono Chapel. The two horizontal pictures were designed to be seen from an angle. They were probably painted in about 1524. They were taken to Paris in 1796 and entered the Gallery in 1816.
‘Madonna della Scala’. Fresco, 196 x 142.
The seated Madonna was originally represented full-length within an arched portal, a bishop’s mitre at her feet. The fresco was painted on the inner façade of the Porta San Michele (the eastern gateway of Parma). Vasari says that it won ‘enthusiastic praise, even from passing strangers who have seen nothing else of his’. The fresco was removed and installed in a nearby chapel in 1545, when the city walls were enlarged. Transferred to the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1812, when the chapel was demolished. Restored and transferred to canvas in 1948.
Annunciation. Fresco, 115 x 157.
The very damaged fresco was painted for the church of the Annunziata at Parma. Vasari describes how, when the church was demolished in 1546, the Franciscan friars ‘had the surviving wall fortified with timber bound with iron and kept the picture intact by cutting round it little by little’. A beautiful squared drawing for the fresco – highly worked in ink and wash on pink paper – is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Coronation of the Virgin. Fresco, 215 x 330.
The central part of the fresco painted by Correggio in the apse of San Giovanni Evangelista. The fresco was paid for in 1522. It was removed in 1587-88 when the choir was enlarged. Other fragments (angel heads) are in London and Boston. There is a faithful copy of the whole composition by the Bolognese painter Cesare Aretusi in the new apse of the church.
'Madonna di Albinea' (copy). Canvas, 160 x 152.
The Virgin, holding the naked Child in her lap, is seated under a tree between the kneeling Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment) and St Lucy (with martyr's palm and a dish with her two eyes). A sixteenth-century copy of an altarpiece painted by Correggio in 1517-19 for the church of San Prospero at Albinea (a village some 10 km southwest of Reggio Emilia). The original painting was removed from the church in 1648-49 by the Duke of Modena and subsequently disappeared. It was replaced by a copy by the French painter Jean Boulanger which is still in the church. The earlier copy in the Parma gallery came from the church of San Rocco at Reggio.
Parma. Former Convent of San Paolo. Camera di San Paolo.
**Ceiling Frescoes: Diana and Putti.
The little circular Camera di San Paolo (or Camera di Badessa) contains the earliest of Correggio’s three great fresco decorations at Parma. It was originally the dining room in the abbess's private apartments. It was decorated, probably in 1518-19, for Badessa Donna Giovanna da Piacenza, whose coat of arms of three crescents is prominently displayed in the centre of the ceiling.
The vault is represented as a trellised arbour. Each of sixteen compartments has an oval opening in which putti with the attributes of Diana (masks, bows and arrows, dogs, horns and stags heads) play against a blue sky. Below are sixteen lunettes filled with allegorical figures in monochrome, many based on antique Roman coins. The figures include the Three Graces (based on the famous antique sculptural group), the earth goddess Tellus (holding a cornucopia and resting against a mound of earth), the naked Juno (hung by her wrists from the roof of heaven with her feet weighted by an anvil) and the Three Fates (spinning the thread of life). On the chimneypiece: the golden-haired Diana, wearing a crescent moon on her head and with her bow and quiver of arrows slung across her back, rides in a chariot drawn by two deer. There has been much scholarly discussion of the iconography of the decoration; but the identification of many of the figures is disputed and no consensus has been reached on the general meaning of the programme. Some writers have even doubted whether Correggio was following a programme at all. (Selwyn Brinton (1907) suggested that 'the artist simply followed his fancy, without any connecting thread of symbolic thought'.)
The imposition of a clausura in 1524, after Abbess Giovanna’s death, made the frescoes inaccessible to subsequent generations, and Vasari fails even to mention them. They remained virtually unknown until 1774, when the German neo-classical painter Anton Raphael Mengs obtained special permission to visit the convent. The nuns were evicted in Napoleonic times, and public access was improved by the construction of a new entrance in the mid-nineteenth century. A major restoration of the ex-convent complex was approved in August 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in autumn 2020.
Parma. San Giovanni Evangelista.
**Dome: Vision of St John at Patmos. Fresco, 940 x 875.
The huge, radiant fresco represents the Last Vision of St John (described in Revelation, 1:7). The aged saint, with long white hair and white beard, crouches close to the cornice of the dome, and is barely visible from the apse of the church. He gazes up in awe at the Risen Christ – a very foreshortened figure – ascending through the clouds; almost naked apostles recline in a ring. Evangelists and Doctors of the Church, engaged in theological debate, fill the pendentives beneath. St Matthew is paired with St Jerome, St Mark with St Ambrose, St Luke with St Gregory, and St John with St Augustine. Correggio probably started work on the dome in 1520 (the first recorded payment was made on 6 July) and, after an interruption caused by the French siege of Parma the following year, the fresco was probably completed in 1522 or 1523. It is the most heroic and Michelangelesque of Correggio’s three great dome decorations. Restored in 1988-90.
North transept. Saint John. Fresco, 79 x 160.
The youthful Evangelist, seated on the ground, writes his Gospel, the eagle perched by his feet. Painted for the lunette above the door to the convent.
The long frieze, representing scenes of Old Testament and pagan sacrifice, was commissioned on 1 November 1522 and paid for on 23 January 1524. A source (Resta) of 1707 states that it was executed by assistants (Francesco Maria Rondani and a certain Torelli or Tonelli) from Correggio’s drawings; but, after cleaning, some recent critics have accepted it as at least partly autograph.
On the evidence of a drawing at Chatsworth, the cross-vaults of one bay of the choir were also decorated to Correggio’s design, with grotesques in grisaille on a blue background.
Correggio’s Coronation of the Virgin in the apse of the church was destroyed when the apse was lengthened (fragments in the Parma Gallery, London and elsewhere). The replica by Cesare Aretusi in the new vault is said to have been based on copies of Correggio’s original made by Annibale and Agostino Carracci.
**Dome: Assumption of the Virgin. Fresco, 1093 x 1195.
The last and most daring of Correggio’s illusionistic dome decorations. The Virgin soars upwards, supported by a mass of figures, angels and spirits, forming concentric circles. Adam appears on one side of her, touching his breast to acknowledge his guilt, and Eve appears on the other side, holding the apple. A youthful, beardless Christ, his white robes riding up, descends to welcome his mother. Below, the apostles stand upon the cornice at the base of the dome. In the pendentives beneath the dome, four saints are seated in what appear to be enormous scallop shells. These are the protectors of Parma: St John the Baptist (with lamb), St Hilary of Poitiers (in a yellow robe), St Joseph (with staff) and St Bernardo degli Uberti (on a cloud supported by angels). Correggio signed the commission to fresco the dome on 3 November 1522. He was to be paid 1000 ducats for the painting and another 100 for the decorative portions. Most of the work seems to have been done between 1526 and 1530, when payments from the Fabbricieri (administrators of the building funds) are recorded. The fresco does not seem to have been well received at the time: a canon of the cathedral is famously said to have likened it to ‘a stew of frogs’ legs’. Controversially restored in the 1980s, it has lost some of its delicacy of modelling and radiance of colour.
Pavia. Museo Civico Malaspina.
Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John. Wood, 27 x 21.
Bequeathed to the Pavia Museum by Marchese Luigi Malaspina in 1833. Previously ascribed to Francia, it was attributed to Correggio as an early work by Morelli (1880). The small panel is in poor condition and some recent critics have judged it the work of a follower.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Madonna and Child with Saints Elizabeth and John. Wood, 61 x 48.
Poorly preserved: before a recent restoration the Virgin’s head was repainted. The Christ Child is probably reaching out to receive from the infant Baptist a reed cross that has now been effaced. An early work; the St Elizabeth is particularly Mantegnesque. Formerly in Prince Leopold Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen’s collection; acquired by Johnson in 1914.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
Christ in Glory. Canvas, 105 x 98.
The upper part of an altarpiece from the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia at Correggio. A fifteenth-century statue (recently attributed to Desiderio da Settignano) was in the centre of the altarpiece and paintings by Correggio of St John the Baptist and St Bartholomew were at the sides. Correggio’s three canvases were painted around the mid-1520s. They were sold in 1613 to Giovanni Siro, Prince and then Count of Correggio. After Siro was exiled from Correggio, they passed into the hands of Camillo II Gonzaga, Lord of Novellara. The Christ in Glory was later in the collections of the painter Niccolò Renieri at Venice and of the politican Ferdinando Marescalchi at Bologna. It was acquired by the Vatican in 1832. The two side canvases are known only through copies. (An early seventeenth-cantury one of the St John the Baptist is in the Royal Collection at Windsor.) The Vatican Christ in Glory was long supposed to be an old copy too (possibly by Annibale Carracci). However, the underdrawing (revealed by research published in 2011) leaves little doubt that it is the original.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
*Danaë. Canvas, 161 x 193.
The subject, taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book IV), was rare when Correggio painted it around 1531. Medieval illustrations of Danaë show her chastely clothed in her tower. A painting of 1527 by the German artist Jan Gossaert depicts her seated and draped in a robe (though a breast is exposed). Titian’s famous representations of Danaë as a reclining nude are some fifteen or twenty years later than Correggio's. In Correggio's painting, Jupiter, disguised as a cloud, hovers over the bed. Cupid, sitting on the foot of the bed, removes the cover from Danaë with one hand and tests the air for rain with the other. In the bottom right-hand corner, two putti test the two arrows of gold and lead on a stone (‘one shaft that arouses love and one that routs it’).
The Danaë is one of four canvases by Correggio representing amorous adventures of Jupiter – the others being the Leda in Berlin and the Rape of Ganymede and Jupiter and Io at Vienna. The series was commissioned by Duke Federico II of Mantua. According to an engraving of 1713, the Danaë was painted in 1531. It has a colourful provenance. Along with the Leda, it was given by Duke Federico to Charles V, who took it to Spain. By 1582-4, it had been acquired – probably as gift from Philip II – by the sculptor Leone Leoni of Milan, whose son Pompeo Leoni sold it to Emperor Rudolph II in 1601-3. It was plundered by Swedish troops from Prague in 1648, and was among the pictures taken to Rome by Queen Christina of Sweden when she abdicated in 1654. Queen Christina bequeathed her pictures to her intimate friend Cardinal Decio Azzolino, whose nephew sold them to Don Livio Odescalchi, capitano generale of the Papal army. They went to Paris in 1721, when Odescalchi's heirs sold them to Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans, Regent of France. During the Reign of Terror in 1793, the Italian pictures in the Orléans collection were taken to London.The Danaë failed to sell in 1798, when it was valued at 1,000 gns, and was eventually acquired by the wealthy banker Henry Hope. The picture then returned to Paris, where it was bought by Prince Camillo Borghese for 30,000 francs in 1827. Unsurprisingly, given all its travels, the picture is somewhat damaged and restored. Cleaned in 1986-90.
Rome. Galleria Doria-Pamphilj.
Allegory of Virtue. Canvas, 150 x 86.
An unfinished version of the picture painted for Isabella d’Este’s studiolo in the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua and now in the Louvre. It is nearly identical in composition, except that the central figure (Minevra) is draped and wears a breastplate in the finished version. It is possible that Correggio abandoned this version because he was unhappy with the technique: it is executed in distemper (the medium used for other paintings in Isabella d’Este’s studiolo), whereas the finished version in the Louvre is painted in tempera. Recorded, with an attribution to Correggio, in the Aldobrandini inventory of 1603.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
*Portrait of a Woman. Canvas, 103 x 88.
Unusually large for a Renaissance portrait. Previously ascribed to Lorenzo Lotto, Giulio Campi and Moretto da Brescia, it was recognised as Correggio’s only in 1958, when Roberto Longhi read the signature – ANTON. LAET. on the tree truck on the left – as a Latinised version of the artist’s name. It is Correggio’s only signed portrait. The Greek inscription on the cup is a line of Homer’s Odyssey describing Helen handing Telemachus a wine cup as a remedy for his grief. The sitter is dressed in the scapular and girdle of a Franciscan tertiary. She has been identified either as Veronica Gambara (wife of Conte Gilberto, governor of Correggio) who was widowed in 1518 or Ginevra Ragone (wife of Giangaleazzo da Correggio) who was widowed in 1517. Transferred to the Hermitage in 1925 from the Yusupov Palace in St Petersburg.
Strasbourg. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Judith. Wood, 27 x 20.
Judith's maid puts the severed head of the Assyrian general Holofernes into her bag of meat (Judith: xiii, 10). This tiny, dramatic night scene is a very early work, and was doubtless influenced by the many versions of this subject by Mantegna and his followers. Bought for the Strasbourg Museum in 1892 by Wilhelm Bode from Charles Fairfax-Murray.
Vienna. Kunthistorisches Museum.
*Rape of Ganymede. Canvas, 163 x 71.
Ganymede, a beautiful Trojan boy, was carried up to heaven by the gods to be Jupiter's cupbearer. In a popular version of the myth, he was snatched up by Jupiter himself, disguised as an eagle, while tending sheep on the slopes of Mount Ida in Crete. Correggio shows Ganymede's sheep dog leaping up in a vain attempt to follow his master. The figure of Ganymede is an exact replica of one of the angels in the squinch depicting St Bernard Uberti in Parma Cathedral. Painted – along with the Jupiter and Io (also in Vienna), the Leda (Berlin and the Danaë (Borghese Gallery, Rome) – for Federico Gonzaga. (Jupiter was a mythical ancestor of the Gonzaga family.) In 1583 it was in the possession of the Spanish Secretary of State, Antonio Perez. It was acquired by Emperor Rudolph II in 1603-4. Just before the picture left Spain, Eugenio Cajés painted a fine copy (now in the Prado).
*Jupiter and Io. Canvas, 163 x 74.
When Jupiter seduced the nymph Io, he conjured up a cloud to stop her flight and conceal his lovemaking from his wife Juno (Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I). In Correggio's erotic depiction, the cloud has assumed Jupiter's bodily form, enveloping Io in a sexual embrace. Only Jupiter's face, emerging from the dense dark raincloud to kiss the nymph, and his hand, reaching down to caress her naked flesh, are visible. A stream runs along the bottom of the picture, with the head of a stag drinking in the bottom right corner. No earlier paintings of this form of the myth are known. (Earlier depictions of the subject had commonly shown Io transformed into a white heifer.) Painted for Federico Gonzaga in about 1530-32 as one of the four canvases showing the amorous adventures of Jupiter. All four canvases went to Spain. Along with the Danaë (now in the Borghese Gallery, Rome), the Jupiter and Io was probably given by Philip II to the sculptor Leone Leoni, whose son Pompeo sold it to Rudolph II in 1601-3. The figure composition is often thought to be based on a Roman relief, 'Ara Grimani', now in the Archaeological Museum at Venice.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 66 x 55.
Early (dated ‘about 1517’ by Ekserdjian (1997)). The pose of the Virgin, looking downwards in full profile, is similar to that in the Brera Adoration of the Magi. In the right background, a landscape with a sleeping shepherd and a goat eating the leaves of a tree. Transferred to the Museum in 1928 from the Schloss Hellbrunn (near Salzburg) after the German art historian Hermann Voss had discovered it and attributed it to Correggio.
Washington. National Gallery.
Marriage of St Catherine with Three Saints. Wood, 28 x 22.
The tiny panel is composed like a miniature altarpiece. The Virgin and Child are enthroned between St Francis and St Dominic. St Anne stands behind the throne. The Child places the ring on the finger of the kneeling St Catherine of Alexandria. The saint's crown, sword and broken wheel lie on the steps in the foreground, and the fictive bronze relief on the pedestal of the throne seems to depict her martyrdom. From the Costabili collection at Ferrara, where it was ascribed to Raphael or Fra Bartolommeo. It was recognised in 1875 by Giovanni Morelli as one of Correggio’s earliest works (about 1510?), showing the influence of Mantegna and Lorenzo Costa. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1932 from the dealer Contini Bonacossi, and bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1941.
The Redeemer (Christ in the Temple?). Wood, 43 x 33.
A youthful, beardless Christ gestures to a passage in the book that is open in front of him. It is possible that the picture represents the twelve-year-old Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth reading from the Book of Isaiah (Luke 4: 16-19). The Leonardesque panel, ascribed to Leonardo da Pistoia by Berenson (1932-36), was attributed to Correggio by Longhi (1958), and is now fully accepted as an early work (about 1515?). From the collection of Lord Kinnaird at Rossie Priory, Perthshire, Scotland. By 1947 it was with the art dealers Colnaghi. Acquired by Kress in 1957.
Virgin and Child (‘Barrymore Madonna’). Canvas, 56 x 41.
This type of half-length Madonna against a dark background derives from Mantegna; and opinion has been divided over whether the much-restored canvas is a very early work of Correggio (about 1508-10?), when he was working under Mantegna, or a late work of Mantega himself or another artist in his circle. Sometimes called the ‘Barrymore Madonna’ after its previous owner, Lord Barrymore of Marbury Hall, Northwick, Cheshire. Acquired by Kress in 1937.